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Samsung NX20 Review

by Dan Havlik, Shawn Barnett, , Dave Etchells, and Zig Weidelich
Preview Posted: 04/19/2012
Review Posted: 10/19/2012

Taking up the top position in Samsung's more complete lineup of compact system cameras, the NX20 naturally sports the most deluxe feature set. It shares a 20.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, as well as the new WiFi functionality, but its claims to fame include an electronic viewfinder (EVF), a 3-inch AMOLED Swiveling display, a shutter speed of up to 1/8,000 second, and a built-in pop-up flash.

A slightly more pronounced grip features on the NX20, with a soft, rubber texture. A rather large hump rises above the lens mount for the EVF and pop-up flash, making the Samsung NX20 look more like an SLR than most compact system cameras.

The front of the Samsung NX20 has an AF-assist lamp, a Depth-of-field Preview button, and a Lens release button. The features are similar to the NX11, but the overall camera design is different, with more sloping shoulders and less apparent bulk. Note how large the APS-C sensor appears inside the small mount.


Stereo microphones flank the Samsung NX20's EVF hump. The flash pops up with a press on flash button to the left. A small Mode dial stands tall enough to turn easily. We like the power switch surrounding the shutter button, though it's a little stiff, and the jog dial on the top deck is great for quick exposure adjustments. Note also the use of metal lugs for a quieter cloth-to-metal interface, rather than reliance on noisier D-rings, as are found on the Samsung NX210 and NX1000.


The only camera of the three to have an articulating 3-inch AMOLED screen, the Samsung NX20 is more versatile than its underlings. The graphical interface on the screen is both impressive and well done.

The NX20's control cluster is similar to the NX210's, but with the addition of the AEL button, something missing on the latter camera. The main graphical adjustments are accessed by pressing the Fn button, which brings up the Smart Panel, a menu navigated via the four way and the rear wheel, and options are changed via the dial on the top deck.

Found on the side of the lenses, Samsung's i-Function button allows the user to quickly adjust a small range of settings in combination with the focus ring. When pressed in PASM modes, the camera toggles among shutter speed, aperture, EV, ISO, White Balance, and intelli-Zoom. Once you've reached your desired setting, turning the ring adjusts that parameter.

The NX20's 20.3 megapixel, APS-C CMOS image sensor is developed in-house. It's closely related to that seen previously in the NX200, but with some tweaks to circuitry, according to Samsung.

The design includes on-chip A/D conversion. ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 12,800 equivalents, in 1 EV or 1/3 EV steps.

Burst shooting performance has increased just slightly from the NX200. Samsung says that the NX20 can manage 8 frames per second (we tested closer to 7.5), for 8 raw or 11 JPEG frames.

You can also opt for a slower 3fps rate, for a JPEG buffer depth of 15 frames. Shutter lag is expected to be around 40 milliseconds (we measured 44).

The NX20 accepts Samsung NX-mount lenses, and the company offers nine different lens models, including four zooms and five primes, three of them pancakes.

Among these is a new version of the 20-50mm lens that's 30% less deep than its predecessor. 2012 model-year kit lenses now feature metal lens mounts; the NX20 kit includes an 18-55mm optic.

Samsung NX-series cameras use in-lens stabilization. Autofocus performance is manufacturer-rated at around 100 milliseconds, the same as was claimed for the NX200.

The NX20 supports i-Function 2.0, which allows adjustment of even more variables with the lens ring, including Smart Filters and intelli-Zoom, the latter being a digital zoom / crop function.

Compared to its simultaneously-announced siblings, the NX20 also adds several additional external controls, and a Custom position on the Mode dial.

Another important differentiator is its TFT-LCD electronic viewfinder, which sports SVGA resolution, and has a generous +/-4 diopter correction.

On the rear panel of the NX20 is a 3.0-inch Active Matrix Organic LED (AMOLED) display. The VGA display has a PenTile array with each pixel comprised of only two subpixels, instead of the more typical three.

Samsung's Smart Panel function, seen previously in the NX200, is retained for the new model, and makes light work of adjusting common exposure variables.

The NX20 has a 221 segment metering system that operates on data from the main image sensor, and considers the scene as a grid of 17 x 13 distinct areas. Multi, Center-weighted, and Spot metering modes are available, and the working range is 0 to 18 EV (ISO 100, 30mm, f/2.0).

Exposure modes include Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, Manual, Smart Auto, Lens Priority, Magic, Scene, Movie, WiFi, and Custom. Shutter speeds range from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds in 1/3 EV steps, plus a bulb mode. The fastest speed is reached courtesy of an electronic shutter. The bulb mode has a hard limit of four minutes. +/-3.0 EV of exposure compensation is available, again in 1/3 EV steps.

There are no less than ten Smart Filter modes (Vignetting, Miniature, Fish-Eye, Sketch, De-fog, Halftone Dots, Soft Focus, Old Film1, Old Film2, and Negative), twelve Picture Wizard modes, and a new Selective Color filter which desaturates most of your image, while retaining one of four colors. The NX20 offers none of the consumer-friendly Magic Frame modes found on the simultaneously-announced NX210 and NX1000, however.

You can also create panoramas in-camera with the Live Panorama function.

A handy addition to the NX20 is its new dual-axis level gauge function, which will make it easier to ensure horizons are true, and verticals parallel.

Another important differentiator for the NX20 is its built-in flash, which is much more powerful than the small external strobe bundled with its siblings. This has a guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100, and 28mm coverage. X-sync is at 1/180 second or less.

If you want more power, external strobes mount in a standard hot shoe on the top deck of the NX20. The most powerful Samsung strobe currently is the ED-SEF42A, with a guide number of 42 meters.

As well as strobes, the hot shoe also accepts a proprietary, body-powered external stereo microphone.

The Samsung EM10 external mic is particularly interesting for two reasons. It has adjustable levels and a built-in headphone jack for monitoring. Even cooler, unlike most competing solutions, it requires no clumsy external cables: A/D conversion is performed by the mic itself, and data is then transferred to the camera through the hot shoe. Nice!

Another new accessory for the NX20 is SR2NX02 remote shutter release, which is not backwards-compatible with the NX200. This cabled remote plugs into the NX20's USB port.

The NX20's video mode allows high-def movies to be captured at a maximum resolution of 1080p (1,920 x 1,080 pixels, aka Full HD), with a rate of 30 frames per second. The NX20's movies are recorded in MP4 format using H.264 video compression and AAC audio, in one of two quality levels. Manual and priority exposure are possible for movie capture. As with the NX200, there are also slow-motion modes, and you can apply certain Smart Filter functions in movie mode.

One of the most unusual features of the NX20, shared with both of its simultaneously announced siblings, is built-in 802.11 b/g/n WiFi Direct connectivity.

The NX20 can connect to networks, or it can serve as a node itself. Once connected, not surprisingly, you can share content on social networks such as Facebook, Picasa, and YouTube.

You can also send emails with your photos attached, directly from the camera.

Another no-brainer: you can automatically back up your photos to a PC on your local network.

Perhaps the coolest feature for our money, though, is the ability to connect to your phone or tablet, and get a live viewfinder feed on the remote device.

Connectivity options include a Micro USB 2.0 combined data / AV out / remote port, a Micro HDMI (Type D) 1.4a high-def video output, and the previously-mentioned external mic / flash hot shoe connectors. You can also use the NX20 with the company's WGS84 GPS module. Images tagged using this module can be viewed in Google Maps through the bundled intelli-Studio software package, and location names can be viewed on-screen in English or Korean.

Power comes courtesy of a 7.4v BP1310 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, rated at 1,300mAh. Battery life is CIPA-rated to 360 shots on a charge. No DC input jack is provided, however the battery compartment door has a cable channel for a dummy battery powered by an AC adapter, though Samsung currently doesn't offer such an accessory.

The Samsung NX20 stores images and movies on an SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card, however the camera does not take advantage of faster UHS cards.  Samsung doesn't seem to recommend a minimum card speed for recording Full HD video, however Class 6 should suffice.

WiFi. We've all seen WiFi cameras come and go over the years, but this time may be different, for several reasons. First, WiFi itself is more ubiquitous than ever, with WiFi antennas even found recently on ski lift towers: WiFi is becoming the near-universal connectivity fabric of modern society.

What's different this time around is that these latest cameras have a whole lot more smarts to deal with WiFi interfacing, and there's also a new "WiFi Direct" protocol that makes it easy for devices to communicate with each other without the fiddling with network names, encryption types, etc., that was needed in the past. If there's an open WiFi network available, these new NX models can use that; but if not, they'll publish their own network to let a phone or computer connect to it.

Suddenly, rather than being islands unto themselves, cameras become true photo sharing hubs, able to email photos or upload to Facebook and YouTube or to a Samsung-provided cloud directly, automatically backup photos to your computer, let you use your smartphone or tablet as a remote viewfinder and shutter release, and connect to your cell phone for photo sharing even when there's no WiFi network around.

We think this is just the first ripple of a wave that's going to sweep through the camera industry in the next few years: Two or three years from now, this sort of connectivity will be expected in cameras, rather than an unusual feature. You can wait for the coming wave, or get onboard now with these latest NX models from Samsung. One way or another, the WiFi wave is coming.

 

Shooting with the Samsung NX20

by Dan Havlik with Shawn Barnett

The 20.3-megapixel Samsung NX20 is a mirrorless, compact system camera (CSC) that so closely resembles a digital SLR, you sometimes forget it's not a DSLR. The potential for mistaken identity carries over to people who see you shooting with the NX20, with several folks asking me what kind of DSLR it was when I took it out for a spin in New York City's Central Park recently.

Despite its generous handgrip, which makes holding and shooting with the NX20 a comfortable experience, this CSC is a notch smaller than entry-level DSLRs but bigger than most other CSCs. The Samsung has no optical viewfinder, though it does have a decent electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a very nice, swiveling, 3-inch AMOLED display on back to help you compose photos from unusual angles.

The NX20 is Samsung's flagship NX model, so it's packed with a kitchen sink's worth of features. While the NX20 uses the same APS-C CMOS sensor as the slightly smaller NX200 -- which I reviewed for Imaging Resource earlier this year -- it adds WiFi functionality, a pop-up flash and ramped up performance overall, including a fast-motion-freezing shutter speed of 1/8,000 second.

Along with its ability to shoot 1080p HD, the Samsung NX20 can record in stereo thanks to its top-mounted microphones, and it has enough manual and automatic functionality to suit a range of photographers, either those jumping up in class or newbies just getting started.

One of the NX20's most intriguing features is its WiFi functionality. Many manufacturers -- including Samsung -- have tried to add ways to connect cameras to the Internet to share images across social networks, but most have failed, often because the process is too complicated.

Sunny days. Color and hue accuracy were good. Many of my shots were in the park on a sunny day, and the colors were rich and vibrant.

In the hand. What's nice about the Samsung NX20 is that it's an easy camera to use. This is no small feat. As with many of Samsung's recent models, the NX20 is a "Smart" camera, which means it's designed to do a lot of the work for you.

I've encountered such "smart" or "intelligent" devices before, whether they're cameras, refrigerators or televisions, and oftentimes their automated features are so over-thought, they're more trouble than they're worth. The Samsung NX20, on the other hand, is a fairly straightforward and familiar-feeling camera that works smoothly.

The all-black Samsung NX20 has a larger handgrip than was on the previous model, but with dimensions of 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.6 inches (122 x 90 x 40mm), it feels slightly smaller overall. The grip's soft, rubberized texture felt comfy in my hand and I didn't get the sense it was going to slip out as with some competing small CSCs. Part of the reason the Samsung NX20 reminds me so much of a DSLR is probably because of the curved bump on top of the camera, which seems like it should be for an optical pentaprism; but since this is a mirrorless camera, the bump is for the EVF and pop-up flash.

The previous flagship CSC in Samsung's lineup, the NX11, was bulkier overall and I prefer the NX20's more curvaceous design with sloped shoulders and a trimmer look and feel. Again, it feels smaller but not petite, so even those with big hands won't have a problem getting a handle on it. At the same time, the Samsung NX20 takes up barely any space in a photo bag and at approximately 22.5 ounces with the kit lens attached, it's not going to weigh you down too much.

The front of the camera is fairly spare, with just the AF-assist lamp, Depth-of-field Preview button and Lens Release button. The top of the camera is dominated by the relatively large, knurled Mode dial, which juts out about a quarter of an inch from the right shoulder.

I didn't mind that Samsung made the dial so prominent on top of the camera -- I used it frequently to adjust settings, though I did find it slightly stiff to turn. The Shutter button is small but well placed for even those with long fingers, and I liked the easy access Jog dial and Multi-function "green" button on the top deck for changing exposure, white balance, color temperature, flash, focus points, and other settings on the fly. On either side of the pop-up flash are the stereo microphones for recording sound while shooting 1080p HD with the NX20. (Make sure your fingers don't accidentally cover them!)

Flip-out screen. The Samsung NX20 has one of the better articulating screens I've tried on a camera recently. Its 3-inch AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic LED) displays 614,400 dots of resolution and features a PenTile array, which means each pixel is comprised of only two subpixels instead of the more typical three. This unique array, which staggers narrow columns of green subpixels with wider columns of alternating red and blue subpixel, is designed to produce the same luminance resolution as a 921,600-dot LCD panel and improve the life of the display over AMOLEDs with RGB striping.

Whatever the science is behind it, the display offered crisp, seemingly high-resolution playback and Live View with 100% coverage. I'm someone who loves using vari-angle, articulating screens for composing shots from up high, down low or from side-angles, and the NX20's 3-inch flip-out display was a helpful tool.

For me, the biggest downside of CSCs in general is that their EVFs can't compare to an optical viewfinder on a DSLR. This is true for the Samsung NX20, as well, though it has a better-than-average EVF, with SVGA (800 x 600) resolution and approximately 100% coverage. The NX20's EVF also has an "Eye Contact Sensor" designed to automatically turn Live View on in the EVF while turning it off on the rear display. As with most cameras that have a similar switching function, I found the sensor to be just a step slow to react. With a wide +/-4 diopter correction though, it's a good fit for most eyes.

The controls and buttons on the rear of the NX20 are similar to the layout on the other CSC cameras in the Samsung NX line and I had no trouble figuring everything out. I like that Samsung has added an AEL (Autoexposure Lock) button on back of the NX20, which is a nice advanced feature I lean on a lot when shooting with a DSLR in mixed lighting situations.

Smart stuff. I've reviewed several Samsung cameras in recent years and continue to be impressed with how logically they integrate external controls with a clear and helpful graphical interface. Returning to the "Smart" theme mentioned earlier, the Samsung NX20's Smart Panel function is a carryover from the NX200, and I was impressed with how it was implemented then as it is now.

Smart Panel, which is called up by pressing the Fn button on the rear of the camera, lets you forego having to dive through menus to change basic camera functions. Instead, pressing the button calls up a friendly display with easy ways to adjust ISO, White Balance, Exposure, burst shooting and many other functions. It's a good system giving you direct access to important features.

I also like Samsung's similar i-Function button on the side of the kit lens -- the feature is available on several of Samsung's CSC lenses -- which lets you change a range of settings quickly. When you're in the PASM modes and press the button, you can choose shutter speed, aperture, EV, ISO, White Balance and other features.

Once you've found what setting you want to adjust, turning the lens ring changes its parameters. The NX20 offers i-Function 2.0, which gives you additional control over features using the lens ring, including Smart Filters and intelli-Zoom, which is a digital zoom / crop function.

Mixed-bag performance. The Samsung NX20 is a relatively nimble camera to use overall, but it probably wouldn't be my first choice to shoot sports or action, despite its spritely 1/8,000th of second maximum shutter speed. (Note: The Samsung NX20 hits that fast speed via an electronic shutter; the mechanical shutter tops out at 1/4,000.) Meanwhile, the NX20's maximum flash sync speed of 1/180 second is good for a CSC, but this is also probably not a camera to use to capture fast motion in the studio.

Don't get me wrong though, the Samsung NX20 is generally quick for a CSC, and its maximum eight frames-per-second shooting speed combined with that fast maximum shutter speed will help you capture some sharp images of motion when shooting a burst of images. Like many cameras in this class, though, the NX20's eight-frame raw or 11-frame JPEG buffer is a hindrance if you're trying to shoot several sequences in a row. The buffer clearing speed is also quite sluggish, taking 15-16 seconds after shooting a full burst of JPEGs or 25-31 seconds after shooting a full raw sequence.

So the Samsung NX20 is not for shooting professional sports, but if you use it for something like street photography or youth athletics it should be fine. As a general rule, I'd recommend shifting to the NX20's slower, three frames-per-second burst speed, which will let you shoot up to 15 JPEGs before slowing down to clear the buffer. Waiting for the camera to catch up to your shooting flow can be frustrating, and sometimes three-frames-per-second is fast enough.

Dog days. While the Samsung NX20's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS NX kit lens doesn't completely blur out the background, it makes a decent portrait shooter.

Also I'd keep the NX20 powered on as much as you can because it's a little slow to get started, taking 1.6 seconds to be able to capture an image after you turn it on. Shot-to-shot cycle times were also not impressive, with our lab timing it at 1.4 seconds between large/superfine JPEGs and 1.32 seconds for raw files. Those numbers were pretty close to what I experienced in real-world testing. The Samsung NX20 is definitely a camera you want to do a fair amount of prefocusing on because once it's locked in, the very minimal shutter lag will help you stay on target. At 0.044 second, the NX20's prefocused shutter lag time was much faster than average.

The Samsung NX20's 15-point, contrast-based autofocus system is reasonably fast, though recent CSCs from Olympus and Panasonic are noticeably faster. The camera has single-point and 35-point closeup modes and Face Detection that will detect a maximum of 10 faces. So while the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS NX kit lens doesn't offer a fast enough maximum aperture to completely blur out the background, it makes a pretty decent portrait shooter. If portraits are your thing -- and you have some money to spend -- we'd recommend splurging for the Samsung 85mm f/1.4 ED SSA Lens (which retails for US$999) and using that with the NX20. You won't regret it (though your spouse might when the credit card statement arrives).

Shooting options. The NX20, as with other CSCs in Samsung's NX line, has plenty of shooting options from the classic PASM modes with full manual control to numerous automated and pre-set choices. I've liked the in-camera tweaks Samsung has offered in the past but, truth be told, they're not significantly different from what you can find offered in some rival cameras. Also, with more photographers having fun with the filter apps on their smart phones to great effect, the NX20's tricks and treats are a bit quaint.

Along with the standard Scene modes such as Landscape, Portrait, Sports, Fireworks and others, the NX20 has Picture Wizard (photo style) options including Vivid (pumped up colors), Forest (pumped up greens), Retro (70s film look), Classic (B&W) and other looks you can add. A bit ho-hum, but I enjoyed some of them, especially the B&W style and the Forest style while shooting in Central Park.

There are also some pretty good Smart Filter effects including Vignetting, Miniature (for a tilt-shift lens effect), Fish Eye, and vintage film effects. There was also a bizarre one called Negative that is designed to apply a negative film effect, but it just looked surreal.

Artistic modes. The NX20's Classic B&W style added some drama to this statue of Romeo & Juliet and this arch with the skateboarder.

The Samsung NX20's Panorama mode is very similar to automated panorama modes in other cameras, where you simply hold down the shutter and move the camera across the scene to capture a full, wide-angle landscape or cityscape. Results are similar, too, with the NX20 able to capture an impressive panorama with little effort. On the downside, when you zoom in on sections of the panorama, detail is lacking and the image is not particularly sharp.

Panoramic park. The NX20's Panorama mode is familiar if you've tried the same feature on competing models: just hold down the shutter and move the camera across the scene to capture a full landscape or cityscape.

Image quality. Samsung developed the NX20's 20.3MP, APS-C CMOS image sensor in-house and we're told it's very similar to the chip in the NX200, but with some slightly different circuitry.

We quite liked the image quality from the NX200, so naturally we were pleased with this camera's JPEGs, and especially its raw images. First off, though, that bump to 20.3 megapixels gives you a lot more resolution to work with compared to the previous flagship NX model, which used a 14.6-megapixel sensor. Our Samsung NX20 photos from Central Park had tons of detail and JPEG quality was very good at low to moderate ISOs. At higher ISOs, there was, of course, some noise but it wasn't a significant increase from the previous model despite the increased resolution.

Capturing detail. The NX-20 shows nice detail with the toy lions I shot, and also captures this building's architectural details when zoomed in.

We messed around with a couple of the canned settings during our shoot, and while the Picture Wizard's Forest style setting pumped up the greens even further -- particularly for the algae-filled Turtle Pond -- it seemed like overkill. The Classic B&W style was nice, especially for our shots of Belvedere Castle and a band shell, but we were less charmed with the others.

Special FX. While the Forest style via the NX20's Picture Wizard settings pumped up the greens -- particularly for the algae-filled Turtle Pond -- it seemed like overkill.

Video skills. The Samsung NX20 shot fairly decent 1080p HD video at 30p but with some caveats. For one, there's a long (1-1.3 second) shutter lag, when you start movie recording and a 0.7-1 second delay when you stop recording. This can be annoying, especially if you see something spontaneous you'd like to shoot quickly. Unfortunately, this type of lag is not uncommon with video recording on CSCs these days.

Video. 1920x1080 30p resolution.

On the plus side, we liked that full PASM exposure control is available when shooting video with the NX20. We also thought the image stabilization in the NX20's kit lens worked quite well while shooting video, with no "jerking" with panning as we've seen with some other cameras.

Rolling shutter artifacts were pretty much non-existent. The only time we saw them was when we panned very quickly. This is a vast improvement over previous CSC models when you would get the wobbly "Jello" effect of rolling shutter even when you panned slightly. Overall, we liked the daytime HD video quality from the NX20; however, things did get noisy and grainy when shooting at night. The only way to get decent results at night is by cranking the ISO to 3,200, which, of course, adds noise. (Again, this is annoying but not surprising for CSCs.)

Samsung NX20 WiFi Mode

by Shawn Barnett and Dan Havlik

While the Samsung NX20 is one of the better APS-C-based CSCs we've tried, where it really separates itself from the pack is in its well-implemented WiFi features. Many companies have tried adding wireless to their digital cameras, but most have failed in the market. Comparatively, wireless connectivity and access to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in smartphones and tablets has been one of the main reasons those devices are so popular. The Samsung NX20 isn't really a match for a highly-connected device like an iPhone, but it does offer a more advanced WiFi experience for a camera.

WiFi Mode options. Selecting WiFi on the mode dial brings up a simple WiFi menu.

The Samsung NX20 puts its WiFi access right on the camera's Mode dial so you don't have to hunt for it in menus to turn it on. Once you turn the dial to WiFi, an interface on the rear display helps you choose among a few options. You can connect via the MobileLink app on an Android device to download photos; remotely control the camera with the Remote Viewfinder app, again from an Android device; upload to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, and Photobucket via the Social Sharing tool; Email your images to any email address, upload your photos to SkyDrive; invoke Auto Backup to copy your photos to a computer; and finally you can connect to a TV wirelessly to display your photos on the big screen. No, the NX20 doesn't have built-in cellular connectivity as is planned for the Samsung's Galaxy Camera that will run Google's Android operating system, but it makes the most of the WiFi connectivity it does have, and it can certainly work with a cell phone's hot spot if you have sufficient data in your plan.

The Samsung NX20 uses 802.11 b/g/n WiFi Direct so you can connect to a wireless network or have the camera act as an access point itself. Though getting it set up was tougher than we had hoped -- using the virtual keyboard feature on back of the NX20 to load in a user name and password for a network was frustratingly slow -- once we connected, it was easy to share images and videos we had just shot to Facebook, Picasa and YouTube.

Qwerty. Typing was tough entering one character at a time via the four-way navigator.

The NX20's virtual keyboard is one instance where a touchscreen would have been very helpful. Typing into it is a nightmare, because you have to use the arrow keys or the scroll wheel to move around on the Qwerty keyboard. Qwerty is fine for those of us who know how to type, but problematic for those who don't. If you need to insert a capital letter, you have to scroll to the shift button, then back to the letter you seek. Uploading a photo to Facebook was easy until we got to the part where we needed to add a comment. And the text was limited to about 100 characters, so we didn't get to finish the thought.

Samsung also made it simple to email images directly from the NX20. Backing up my NX20 photos to a computer connected via a WiFi network was relatively painless, too.

Copying the massive JPEG files to an older Android smartphone was pretty slow -- taking five minutes for just three files -- but much faster on the Nexus 7 tablet, taking 34 seconds to copy about 26 megabytes of JPEG files (four images).

You can connect the NX20 wirelessly to a phone or a tablet. We tested it with Android devices because iOS apps were not available at the time (Samsung tells us they're coming). You can also use cell phones and tablets as a live viewfinder to compose and snap photos. This feature needs some work, though. The live view in the Remote Viewfinder app did not fill the whole screen on the tablets, and was squashed vertically. Rotating the tablet or phone doesn't rotate the display, but rotating the camera to vertical does rotate the live image to a larger vertical image.

Shown here on the Nexus 7 tablet, the Remote Viewfinder display is limited to smartphone size. The live view display is somewhat squashed vertically, but it refreshes fairly fast. Tapping in the live image area brings up three icons on the left side with options for Flash (off and auto), Timer (off, 2sec, 10sec), and PhotoSize (20M, 2.1M).

Again on the Nexus 7, the MobileLink app is pretty rudimentary. Tapping on the checkboxes selects images to copy from the camera to the device, pressing and holding an image brings up a small thumbnail in the center of the display, and pressing the Copy button at the bottom begins copying the images.

The Samsung NX20's WiFi capability was far from perfect, but it's quite a bit more capable than most of what's gone before. Anyone who can operate a cell phone app should be up and running quickly. We're glad to see WiFi integrated into more cameras, especially more serious models than we've seen in the past.

 

Samsung NX20 Image Quality

Below are crops comparing the Samsung NX20, Samsung NX200, Canon T4i, Nikon D3200, Olympus EM5, and Sony NEX-7. Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we'd start with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Samsung NX20 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 100

Samsung NX20 at ISO 100
Samsung NX200 at ISO 100

Image processing is clearly different between the NX20 and NX200, with the NX20 trading a little bit of detail for less luminance noise overall. The mosaic image is better in last year's NX200, but the pink swatch seems a bit sharper. The truth is, it's so close that it could come down to a slight focus discrepancy. What's noticeable is the softer rendition of the red leaf swatch. Both cameras render it way too soft for ISO 100, highlighting aggressive noise suppression in the red channel.


Samsung NX20 versus Canon T4i at ISO 100

Samsung NX20 at ISO 100
Canon T4i at ISO 100

The Canon T4i's 18-megapixel sensor also handles the scene differently, doing a bit better on the red leaf swatch, leaving the pink swatch a little soft, and the mosaic also seems less sharp. Both show sharpening halos around the letters on the Mas Portel bottle, but the T4i's images look a little softer.


Samsung NX20 versus Nikon D3200 at ISO 100

Samsung NX20 at ISO 100
Nikon D3200 at ISO 100

Going up against the Nikon D3200's 24-megapixel sensor is another mixed story, with the Samsung image having more punch, except in the red leaf swatch, where the Nikon turns out an image much closer to the real thing. The Nikon D3200 also gets closer on the pink swatch.


Samsung NX20 versus Olympus EM5 at base ISO

Samsung NX20 at ISO 100
Olympus EM5 at ISO 200

Surprisingly, the 16-megapixel Olympus E-M5's image looks a little better than the 20-megapixel NX20 in just about every respect. Sharpening halos are a little brighter on the Mas Portel bottle, but it's hard to argue with the crisp, sharp results.


Samsung NX20 versus Sony NEX-7 at ISO 100

Samsung NX20 at ISO 100
Sony NEX-7 at ISO 100

Sony's NEX-7 delivers more of what we'd expect from a 24-megapixel sensor than the Nikon D3200 managed. It looks more like the Olympus sensor enlarged a bit (and for good reason, because it's widely believed the Olympus E-M5's sensor is made by Sony). Color looks a little bit better, and detail is definitely better, though the pink swatch isn't quite as pink as we'd like to see. The NX20 gets more of the cloth texture in the pink swatch, and does pretty well all the same.



Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Samsung NX20 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX20 at ISO 1,600
Samsung NX200 at ISO 1,600

Anti-noise processing is a little better controlled in the NX20, with a less staccato appearance to the shadows, and less aggressive sharpening overall. Chroma noise is also reduced well, resulting in a little more muted contrast, particularly in the mosaic swatch.


Samsung NX20 versus Canon T4i at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX20 at ISO 1,600
Canon T4i at ISO 1,600

The Canon T4i again produces a slightly softer image, but with higher contrast overall. Exposure between the two differs a bit, with the T4i appearing a bit darker. The shadows from the T4i look more like shadows should look, with almost no chroma noise. And at ISO 1,600, the NX20's rendering of the red leaf swatch is more believable.


Samsung NX20 versus Nikon D3200 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX20 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3200 at ISO 1,600

Though the usual Nikon approach is more even in most cameras, the high-contrast areas are downright soft on the D3200, while the red leaf swatch does look superior. Both images would probably produce similar results when printed.


Samsung NX20 versus Olympus EM5 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX20 at ISO 1,600
Olympus EM5 at ISO 1,600

The Olympus E-M5 again surprises, a Micro Four Thirds sensor turning out better results than the NX20's APS-C sensor. The E-M5's higher contrast, better color, and a more distinct appearance of sharpness prints very well.


Samsung NX20 versus Sony NEX-7 at ISO 1,600

Samsung NX20 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-7 at ISO 1,600

Sony's adaptive noise suppression is evident at ISO 1,600, resulting in a mushy pink swatch, a decent red leaf swatch, a good, if somewhat muddled mosaic image, and a very blurry -- but faithfully gray -- background behind the Mas Portel bottle. Neither camera gets the pink swatch right, but the NX20 does better here. In this case, the Samsung's performance is more even, if not as high-res or contrasty; at least it doesn't look quite as processed.



Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Samsung NX20 versus Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX20 at ISO 3,200
Samsung NX200 at ISO 3,200

Again, noise is better controlled at ISO 3,200 in the NX20, and contrast is reduced. I appreciate the tradeoff, and have to say I prefer the NX20's image.


Samsung NX20 versus Canon T4i at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX20 at ISO 3,200
Canon T4i at ISO 3,200

The Canon T4i still has a slight edge in the shadows and the mosaic image, but gets even worse in the red leaf and pink swatches. I prefer the contrast in the Canon image, but they're so close it's hard to call one better than the other.


Samsung NX20 versus Nikon D3200 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX20 at ISO 3,200
Nikon D3200 at ISO 3,200

Though the Nikon exhibits less noise in the shadows, the yellow bottle and the mosaic swatch is flecked with yellow and orange dots that simply aren't there. The red leaf swatch also has black dots that you won't find in the image. Both print reasonably well, but I give the edge to the NX20 in this case.


Samsung NX20 versus Olympus EM5 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX20 at ISO 3,200
Olympus EM5 at ISO 3,200

Again with the crisp detail, the OM-D E-M5 finds contrast and detail where the NX20 doesn't, particularly in the mosaic image. Still, the NX20 hangs on to a better impression of the red leaf swatch than the E-M5.


Samsung NX20 versus Sony NEX-7 at ISO 3,200

Samsung NX20 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-7 at ISO 3,200

The NEX-7's clean shadows stand out as quite good, but one look at the mosaic swatch shows how they got there: by suppressing color, creating a quite usable, but ashen impression of the mosaic image. It's arguable which you'd prefer in darkness, where the chroma noise would stand out more than the ashen look, so bear that in mind.



Detail: Samsung NX20 versus Samsung NX200, Canon T4i, Nikon D3200, Olympus EM5, and Sony NEX-7

Samsung
NX20

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Samsung
NX200

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
T4i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D3200

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
EM5

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-7

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast details are often sharper as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. The Samsung NX20 looks pretty comparable to the others, and sharper than the D3200 and T4i at ISO 100. The Olympus stands out with more contrast and pretty strong sharpening. But as ISO rises, the NX20's detail takes on a more processed or watercolor look, while the others hold a more natural shape. The red letters turn to mush even more than the NX200's do. Still, I'd call the NX20 pretty close to the others, excluding the stand-out surprise winner, the Olympus E-M5.

 

Samsung NX20 Print Quality

ISO 100 shots have enough detail for printing at 24 x 36 inches, though detail in our red leaf swatch is soft right from the start (we'll stipulate this from here on).

ISO 200 images are quite good at 20 x 30 inches, with good color and detail.

ISO 400 images print well at 20 x 30 too, though there is some faint luminance and chroma noise in the shadows. We still call them good.

ISO 800 shots are usable at 20 x 30, but look better at 16 x 20 inches.

ISO 1,600 prints are pretty good at 13 x 19, but blotchy luminance and chroma noise in the shadows is noticeable even from arm's length.

ISO 3,200 shots look better at 8 x 10, but dark colors continue to be marred by the blotchy noise, lightening darks such that it reduces contrast. This effect is diminished when printed at 5 x 7.

ISO 6,400 shots also look good at 5 x 7.

ISO 12,800 shots make good 4 x 6-inch prints from arm's length, but darks are affected by noise, important to note if you're printing a nighttime image.

Overall, the NX20's printed results are quite good. Image quality drops quickly from 1,600 to 3,200, though, something we've seen in past Samsung CSCs. This is quite a bit better, though, so we're happy to report Samsung has improved its image processing above ISO 1,600.

 

In the Box

The Samsung NX20 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Samsung NX20 Conclusion

Pros: Cons:
  • Comfortable, ergonomic camera build that looks and feels like a small DSLR
  • Easy interface makes adjusting settings a breeze
  • Well-thought-out Smart Panel GUI for quick changes
  • Very little shutter lag when you pre-focus
  • Nice flip-out 3-inch AMOLED vari-angle screen
  • Above-average EVF, with SVGA (800 x 600) resolution and 100% coverage
  • Lots of detail from high-resolution 20.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • Generally very good image quality, especially from raw
  • Many pre-set filters for in-camera image tweaking
  • Kit lens has relatively good optical quality
  • Automatic distortion and chromatic aberration correction
  • Built-in flash has very good range
  • Smart hot-shoe supports external mic or GPS without cables
  • Fast 7.5 fps burst speed
  • 1/8,000 second maximum shutter speed (electronic)
  • Good battery life
  • Full 1080p HD video shooting at 30p with good daytime video quality
  • PASM support for videos
  • One of the best implementations of WiFi in a camera we've tried, making picture sharing very easy
  • So similar in design to a DSLR it makes you wonder why you didn't get a DSLR
  • Slow start-up times for stills and videos
  • Slow shot-to-shot times
  • Buffer fills up quickly in burst shooting; takes time to process and clear
  • Large raw files
  • Virtual keyboard for WiFi is a pain to use
  • Significant noise in JPEGs at ISO 1,600 and above (unrefined noise processing doesn't take full advantage of sensor output)
  • Night-time video quality only so-so
  • In the higher price-range for a CSC
  • Inaccurate manual white balance can lead to cool colors and greenish casts
  • Contrast setting impacts saturation
  • Dynamic range not as good as competing APS-C models
  • Limited high ISO noise reduction control (On/Off)
  • Noise reduction too aggressive in red channel even at base ISO
  • AF speeds not as fast as most recent CSCs
  • AF can struggle in low light with kit lens

 

With other APS-C based Compact System Cameras (CSCs) from a company that also starts with "S" getting most of the press these days, it's sometimes easy to overlook Samsung and its line of NX models. This should start to change. The 20.3MP flagship NX20 is the best CSC that Samsung has made so far, and it comes with an abundance of features and an easy-to-use and well-thought-out interface.

The build and design of the Samsung NX20 resembles a small DSLR, which I liked since it fit comfortably in my hand, was ergonomic to use, and had good placement of buttons and controls without weighing me down. At the same time though, I wondered whether I would've have preferred just to have had a DSLR instead. While the flip-out 3-inch AMOLED vari-angle screen was nice for composing and reviewing shots and the electronic viewfinder for your eye wasn't bad, I still prefer a good optical viewfinder like you'd find on a DSLR for composing pictures. I also thought the NX20 was a step slower to use than even an entry-level DSLR overall, with somewhat sluggish start-up and shot-to-shot speeds.

Also, while the 7.5 frames-per-second burst speed of the Samsung NX20 was nice, the buffer fills up quickly and takes time to clear, especially when shooting raw.

On the plus side, image quality from the NX20's APS-C CMOS sensor was very good and our photos had great color and lots of resolution for making big prints and cropping. I also liked the abundance of preset filters for tweaking your images in-camera. However, truth be told, what you'd find on your smart phone with Instagram and Hipstamatic are more fun.

Our photos from the NX20 and its big sensor had a lot less noise though than anything you'd get from a smart phone and its full 1080p HD video shooting was easy to engage and produced excellent results in good light. And speaking of smart phones, while the built-in WiFi on the NX20 did not provide as seamless a photo sharing experience as, for example, an iPhone, it had one of the best WiFi implementations on any camera we've tried. Once you had the camera connected to a WiFi signal, sharing photos and video via Facebook, Picasa, YouTube or even email was a snap. Overall, while the Samsung NX20 had a few minuses in performance, this forward-thinking camera had enough smarts to earn a Dave's Pick.